The Long Hair of Death (1964)

THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964)
Article #1558 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-20-2005
Posting Date: 11-17-2005
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Barbara Steele, George Ardisson, Halina Zalewska

A woman being burnt alive for being a witch and having committed murder (the latter is a false accusation) places a curse on those responsible for her execution.

Antonio Margheriti seems to be better remembered for his early sixties forays into science fiction (ASSIGNMENT OUTER SPACE, BATTLE OF THE WORLDS, etc.), but I’ve always found these movies to be muddled to the point of incomprehensibility. I much prefer his forays into horror, such as this one. The beginning is certainly familiar territory, but for once I found myself caught up in the mechanics of the curse coming to fruition. It involves the fates of the two daughters of the witch (one living, one dead), adultery, an attempted murder with overtones of DIABOLIQUE, some side characters who might harbor political ambitions, a plague, a resurrection from the grave, and an effigy destined to be burned. These aspects all come together in a fairly coherent plot for an Italian horror movie, and it’s also helped by better-than-average dubbing. It doesn’t quite have the kick of CASTLE OF BLOOD or THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG, but I found it quite satisfying.

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Li’l Abner (1940)

LI’L ABNER (1940)
Article #1557 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-19-2005
Posting Date: 11-16-2005
Directed by Albert S. Rogell
Featuring Jeff York, Martha O’Driscoll, Mona Ray

Li’l Abner is told that he has only twenty-four hours to live, and ends up proposing to both Daisy Mae and Wendy Wildcat in order to make them happy under the belief that he will be dead before the wedding. When he survives, the two women fight over him.

Fantastic aspects: Li’l Abner has super strength. For that matter, so do Earthquake McGoon and Mammy Yokum.

I remember this comic strip running in my Sunday papers when I was a kid, though it was gone before I was really old enough to appreciate the satirical edge I’m told it had. Still, I do remember the looks of the characters, and if there’s anything that this slapsticky version of the comic strip does well, it captures their looks. Outside of that, it’s pretty silly, but fitfully amusing. It’s mostly memorable for the presence of Buster Keaton as Lonesome Polecat, though that doesn’t mean that his talents weren’t wasted here. The movie also features Edgar Kennedy as Cornelius Cornpone.

The Last War (1961)

THE LAST WAR (1961)
(a.k.a. SEKAI DAISENSO)
Article #1556 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-18-2005
Posting Date: 11-15-2005
Directed by Shuei Matsubayashi
Featuring Frankie Sekai, Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi

A Japanese family tries to continue to live their normal lives with the impending threat of nuclear war.

My copy of this movie (in Japanese and subtitled) opens with the trailer for the movie, and the trailer would have you believe that the movie is a non-stop barrage of special effects. If it were, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective as it is. Instead, this movie focuses for the most part on the travails of a single family. The father is unable to fathom the possibility of nuclear war and assumes that all will work itself out, the mother is suffering from an unspecified illness but still takes her full role in the family, and the daughter is hoping to marry the man she loves, even if her father disapproves; there are also two young children. We get to know this family fairly well. Interspersed between these scenes of the family are scenes of the events surrounding a coming nuclear war, and two of these events involve touch-and-go situations (one involving faulty machinery, the other involving an avalanche) both of which almost result in the onset of nuclear holocaust which is only averted at the last second. If there is anything these scenes accomplish, it is that they do not leave you feeling comfortable with the idea that no war will occur and that cooler heads will prevail, two of the father’s beliefs. Still, during the panics near the end of the movie, the father makes a comment that is very telling when he refuses to evacuate himself from Tokyo with the comment that there is no place for ninety million people to hide. The movie ends up being very effective in that it allows you to get close enough to the characters that you care about them and their fates, and that is the strength of this movie. It has its problems; in particular some of the acting by non-Orientals is variable. Still, this is a worthy addition to the nuclear holocaust movies of the fifties and sixties.

Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)

ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (1941)
(Serial)
Article #1555 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-17-2005
Posting Date: 11-14-2005
Directed by John English and William Witney
Featuring Tom Tyler, Frank Coghlan Jr., William ‘Billy’ Benedict

When an scorpion relic is discovered in an ancient tomb, a man is given the ability to turn into a superhero to prevent its use for evil purposes.

This serial is often considered one of the best ones ever made, and I think it earns its plaudits. I think it may be the only time that Republic actually gave its central hero super powers rather than just a cool costume, and it has an interesting effect in that it cuts down on the lengthy fight scenes; when the hero can dispatch the villains with a single punch, it has a way of streamlining the fights. It also does a number of things right; the comic relief character, though he plays a major part in the proceedings, is used for comic purposes only sparingly, and he totally avoids being annoying. The Scorpion is a very effective villain, each episode is very well done and makes good use of Captain Marvel’s powers, and it avoids lame cliffhangers. This serial manages to be equally fun throughout its length; it may be the only time when, after watching the final episode, that I wished it had gone on for a few more.

Kiss Me Quick! (1964)

KISS ME QUICK! (1964)
Article #1554 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-16-2005
Posting Date: 11-13-2005
Directed by Peter Perry
Featuring Frank A. Coe, Max Gardens, Althea Currier

An emissary named Sterilox from the Buttless Galaxy arrives at the laboratory of Dr. Breedlove to find the perfect female specimen to take back with him.

Yes, it’s another nudie. It’s filled with repetitive scenes of women undressing or lolling around in states of undress, and it also features bad jokes and double entendres. The odd thing is that the bad jokes and double entendres are actually pretty good this time around, and the movie is stuffed so full of them that it manages to hold the interest. There’s also a Frankenstein monster, a vampire and a mummy in the mix (plus a reference to a wolfman as well). The character of Sterilox is played as a movie-long imitation of Stan Laurel, while Dr. Breedlove is performed vocally as an imitation of Bela Lugosi with a Peter Lorre laugh. A talking skull is given the voice of Peter Lorre himself. If more nudies were this amusing, they might actually be worth watching.

The Killing Kind (1973)

THE KILLING KIND (1973)
Article #1553 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-15-2005
Posting Date: 11-12-2005
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Featuring Ann Sothern, John Savage, Ruth Roman

A disturbed young man is released from prison after having served time for taking part in a gang rape. He returns home to his possessive mother and finds himself haunted by the desire for revenge and his own repressed sexuality.

Director Curtis Harrington’s output is variable, but there’s always a little more dimension to his movies than you might expect. This one is no exception. Sexually repressed psychos were nothing new at this point, but the characters here are so well-developed and the relationships are so striking that it holds the attention. In particular, Ann Sothern gives a wonderful performance as the mother, whose possessive and improper behavior play a big role in driving her son around the bend, but whose love for him is very real indeed. Luana Anders and Peter Brocco are also excellent as a repressed librarian and her dictatorial father; these characters were so memorable that the writers recycled them when they wrote the script for THE ATTIC. John Savage also does well as the psychotic son. Some of the scenes fall flat, especially a dream sequence involving a crib that is so totally lacking in psychological subtlety that it ends up laughable and embarrassing. Nonetheless, these scenes are in the minority, and overall the movie is very good, with a strong, memorable ending.

Kill, Baby, Kill (1966)

KILL, BABY, KILL (1966)
(a.k.a. OPERAZIONE PAURA)
Article #1552 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-14-2005
Posting Date: 11-11-2005
Directed by Mario Bava
Featuring Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Erika Blanc, Fabienne Dali

A coroner is called to a small town to perform an autopsy on a woman who died an unusual death. He discovers a coin buried in her heart, and finds out that her death is tied to strange visions of a little girl.

This movie has a variable reputation. Some people consider it Bava’s best movie, while others feel disappointed. I can understand both reactions. The movie is enticingly mysterious, effectively moody, and uses color wonderfully. It is also full of very striking scenes; in particular, I like a sequence where the hero chases someone through the same room several times in succession only to catch him and discover—well, I won’t give it away. Yet that scene also points to the movie’s problem; ultimately, there’s no satisfactory explanation for it. It’s a case where the mystery element is a lot more compelling than the disappointing and incomplete explanations, and the climax of the movie doesn’t quite deliver the necessary scares. Certainly, the title doesn’t help; it makes it sound for all the world like it’s about a serial killer, and that doesn’t capture it. Still, I think the movie is worth catching for the mood and certain individual moments; only the disappointing ending really holds it back.